Assessment of biodiversity vulnerability to climate change using species traits

Program or topic

Assessment of biodiversity vulnerability to climate change using species traits

Department(s) or unit(s)

Natural Resources

Contact information

Joseph Bernardo, Ph.D.
Faculty Fellow, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
Senior Research Associate, Department of Natural Resources

Program goals

To develop and apply operational tools for assessing biodiveristy vulnerability to climate change using species traits.

Brief Description

Global warming is now recognized as an overarching threat to biodiversity because of the global scale of climate change, and as an insidious threat because its effects will pervade even protected areas and other sites not yet impacted by anthropogenic habitat conversion or exploitation. Endangerment vulnerability is currently assessed solely using ecological traits (population size estimates and trends, estimates of geographic range and occupation; IUCN 2008), which are emergent properties of organisms. Moreover, because extant criteria implicitly assume that threats are principally ecological (habitat loss, take), they are not appropriate or readily adapted to forecast endangerment due to climate change. Here we describe a more integrative view of species vulnerability by defining new criteria that specifically address how species will differentially respond to climate change based largely upon intrinsic features such as stress tolerances, estimates of dispersal propensity, and evolutionary potential. Our approach aims to develop generalized criteria with broad applicability across biodiversity and objectively defined thresholds. We apply the criteria across a range of taxa in nearly 100 case studies to illustrate their use and utility in identifying unforeseen vulnerabilities in apparently secure species. Because the new criteria use intrinsic species traits to predict climate change vulnerability, they characterize vulnerability that is independent of the uncertainty attendant to climate models. Further, the new criteria also will permit formal assessments of a far wider range of species for which accurate ecological data are deficient. Further, the large number of criteria will permit development of a quantitative index of vulnerability, estimates of criteria concordance (e. g., ecologically not endangered, but physiologically endangered species), and large-scale comparative analyses of relative endangerment (across taxa, within regions, etc.) from climate change. Lastly, these criteria have broad applicability in other areas including assessment of invasibility potential.

For more information

Category: Biodiversity, Ecosystems, Wildlife

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